Coronavirus facts

Last update: 28 Mar 2020 9:58am

What are coronaviruses

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some coronaviruses cause illness in humans and others cause illness in animals, such as bats, camels, and civets. Human coronaviruses generally cause mild illness, such as the common cold.

Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve to infect and spread among humans, causing severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which emerged in 2002, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) which emerged in 2012.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a new strain of coronavirus that is causing disease in humans and spreading from person-to-person. The name of the disease is COVID-19.

What we know about COVID-19

The current COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly. We are still learning about how this new virus spreads and the disease it causes. We know:

  • the virus causes respiratory disease that can spread from person to person
  • most people experience mild flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath
  • some people experience severe illness and, sadly, a small proportion die
  • older people and people with underlying medical conditions seem to be more at risk of severe illness
  • there is no treatment for COVID-19, but medical care can treat most of the symptoms – antibiotics do not work on viruses
  • a vaccine is currently not available.

How it spreads

The virus most likely spreads through:

  • close contact with an infectious person
  • contact with droplets from an infected person’s uncovered cough or sneeze (if you are within 1.5 metres or two large steps of an infected person)
  • touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs, sink taps and tables) that have cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

What are the symptoms

Symptoms range from mild illness to pneumonia. Some people recover easily, others may get very sick, very quickly. Symptoms include fever or acute respiratory illness (eg cough, sore throat or shortness of breath). People with severe illness may have difficulty breathing, which is a sign of pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention.

It can take up to 14 days for symptoms to show after a person has been infected.

Who is most at risk

At the moment it seems the elderly, people with weakened immune systems, and people with serious underlying health conditions, like diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, cancer or kidney failure, may be at higher risk of severe illness.

Last update: 25 Mar 2020 4:34pm

The Department of Health is working closely with national health authorities and local health services, including hospitals and GPs, to prepare for more cases and identify and appropriately manage potential cases quickly. We are being guided by the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus, national guidelines that are being reviewed daily, and extensive pandemic planning undertaken over recent years.

The Tasmanian Government has declared a State of Emergency for Tasmania in response to COVID-19. Read the direction made by the Director of Health under Section 16 of the Public Health Act 1997.

The State Control Centre has been activated, meaning the whole-of-government response to COVID-19 is being led by the State Controller – Commissioner of Police, Darren Hine – in close liaison with the Director of Public Health, Mark Veitch.

Last update: 25 Mar 2020 4:48pm

General information

About coronavirus and the national response

For the latest information about coronavirus go to the Australian Government Department of Health website.

About the Tasmanian situation and response

The Tasmanian Government Department of Health website has information about the situation in Tasmania. You can also follow the Department of Health on Facebook for updates.

About the global situation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) website provides up-to-date advice and facts about the situation globally.

Health information

Symptom checker

If you are experiencing symptoms that worry you, use healthdirect's online Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptom Checker for advice on what to do next.

National coronavirus Helpline

For general information about coronavirus, or if you are experiencing symptoms, call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 (24 hours, 7 days) for advice on what to do next. If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450.

healthdirect website and app

Information and advice provided by the National Coronavirus Helpline is also available on the healthdirect website and via the healthdirect mobile app.

Tasmanian Public Health Hotline

If you think you might have COVID-19 because you feel unwell with a fever OR cough, sore throat or shortness of breath AND have recently travelled internationally or interstate OR had contact with a confirmed case, phone your GP or the Tasmanian Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738 straight away. Tell them about your symptoms and recent travel.